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Ukraine: The Government And Population Are Increasingly Diverging

Above photo: Collage of photos from the war in Ukraine, with a part of the Ukrainian flag visible in the bottom right-hand corner. Mahdi Rteil/Al Mayadeen English.

Report from Ukraine detailing the recent developments in the country and along the frontlines.

On February 6, the Verkhovna Rada (national legislature) of Ukraine voted to endorse the decree issued by President Volodomyr Zelensky to extend martial law for another 90 days. The new decree prolongs martial law until May 13, 2024. This definitively settles that there will be no presidential election in Ukraine by March 31, 2024, the anniversary date of Zelensky’s election in 2019 on a five-year mandate.

The Rada likely faces a similar extension of its five-year mandate, which is supposed to expire in July 2024. The election law of Ukraine (English translation hereprohibits holding elections during martial law, and the latter can be prolonged indefinitely provided some semblance of threat can be found and cited. A classic despotism has actually taken shape in Ukraine since 2014 and has accelerated since 2022. But the reverse side of this is a growing detachment and alienation of the population from the Ukrainian state.

Growing numbers of Ukrainians are unwilling to sacrifice themselves to defend the existing state.

The example of Ukraine can now be clearly cited to demonstrate the Marxist theory of the capitalist state as an apparatus of violence in the hands of the ruling classes. For two years now, there has been a real roundup of people throughout Ukraine for the compulsory military draft. The unfortunate draftees are typically rushed to the front lines of the NATO/Ukraine war against Russia with minimal training, weapons, and protective wear (winter wear, for example). At the same time, under pressure from Western creditors, the remnants of social services in Ukraine continue to be drastically cut on the pretext that there is limited funding.

Since January 2024, Ukrainian men have even been refused treatment in Ukrainian public hospitals without permission from the military commission, which is a direct violation of their human and civil rights. The head of the Kravets and Partners law firm in Ukraine, Rostyslav Kravets, says that the refusal to provide medical assistance using specious grounds, including the lack of a military service card or certificate from the military enlistment office, can be interpreted as a violation of the Ukraine constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (approved by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948).

As a result, for an ordinary Ukrainian stripped of personal protection by members or institutions of the ruling class, the Ukrainian state has fully turned into an instrument that wants to take his or her life and health without offering anything in return. This leaves little motivation for many Ukrainians to fight, as many messages on Ukrainian Telegram channels are noting.

The Telegram channel XUA recently wrote: “Ukrainians have turned against the military enlistment officers not only because of the tightened conscription, which is usually done illegally, but also because of the state’s negligent attitude to the problems that arise for the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) directly on the battlefield. Many severely wounded soldiers become permanently disabled, and there is limited assistance from the state for treatment and rehabilitation of wounded war veterans. They often end up paying for their own medical treatments or rehabilitation, sometimes including expensive prosthetics, and this while they look for a good job, which is very difficult to find these days. The result is that many Ukrainians are losing motivation to join the armed forces. They are not interested in being sent to the war front while suffering the hardships of a person deemed expendable by the state.”

Igor Krivosheev, an MP from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, suggests that men who do not want to fight should “swim across the Tisa” (a river in Ukraine sharing the border with Romania) and find a different citizenship. “If you in Ukraine are not ready to join this war in one way or another, you need to look for another country. If you are not ready to take this responsibility, then there is an opportunity to swim across the Tisa and seek another citizenship,” Krivosheev said.

However, the MP is being hypocritical, as he would know that dozens and hundreds of Ukrainians are being caught daily at the country’s borders in efforts to flee the country, including along the Tisa river. Those who are caught are invariably sent to the front lines.

The Ukrainian state acting as a deity demanding blood from its citizens

Ukrainian officials and nationalists are now increasingly talking on Ukrainian television channels about the need to fight the Russians “for free,” that is, without financial compensation or medical rehabilitation for the combatants and the wounded. The Ukrainian state is acting like some kind of deity in which one places blind loyalty and for which one accepts all sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life.

All people and things Russian are demonized and portrayed as some kind of existential threat that has existed for thousands of years and will always exist. Ukrainians should prepare for permanent war and not expect any compensation, since the country’s economy will continue to be ruined and the United States and European Union are unlikely to sponsor forever their project of Ukraine as the “anti-Russia.”

In other words, Ukrainians are being offered to fight a forever war for some abstraction consisting of little more than a violent state apparatus and its institutions of violence, headed by officials and their children educated in Western universities, as the present and future rulers of Ukraine.

For decades, Western propaganda has attacked pro-Soviet sentiments in Ukraine, demanding that Ukrainians become “pragmatic” by placing their own personal gains uppermost in life and discarding Soviet-era idealism. Now they are being asked to be “pragmatic” by fighting for a different set of ideals diametrically opposed to the earlier ones.

The desire to cancel the Russian Revolution of 1917

Ukrainian television, which broadcasts exclusively the official positions of the country’s authorities, constantly urges Ukrainians to fight, citing the civil war and foreign military intervention that followed the 1917 Russian Revolution so long ago. The official Telemarathon of the regime in Kiev, broadcast for hours each and every day, cites an alleged “failure” in 1918 Ukraine to fully mobilize militarily. This, in turn, is cited as the reason for the defeat of the nationalist (that is, pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist) Ukrainian People’s Republic in its war in 1918-19 against Bolshevik-led and other political forces (Social Revolutionaries, anarcho-communists) who were seeking political and social revolution.

Ukrainians are being told that back then, as of now, a conscription law was debated for a long time while thousands of adult men enrolled in universities for the sake of deferment or they paid bribes in order to avoid military service. As a result, it is claimed, the city of Kiev was surrendered to the newly formed Red Army without a fight. On February 5, 1919, the armed forces of Ukrainian Bolsheviks entered Kiev without a single shot being fired. The city had been more or less abandoned three months earlier by the bourgeois-nationalists because their own military formations had proven unreliable and unwilling to fight.

However, the real reasons for the defeat of the bourgeois-nationalists were economic. The Bolshevik-led forces were successfully addressing the economic concerns of the people, especially in advocating land reform. The Ukrainian economy of the time was almost entirely agrarian, and like today, the country was one of the poorest in Europe. Then, as now, the nationalists were prepared to sell off Ukrainian farmland and other valuable national assets to capitalist interests in France and Britain in order to obtain Western arms and loans. Today, Ukraine’s leaders say they are being “forced” to sell off farmland and other valuable national asset by foreign creditors as a condition of obtaining more loans, but this argument does not assuage public anger over the policy nor preserve loyalty to this government.

The online publication Strana in Ukraine comments, “It should be noted that the Ukrainian rural population was skeptical about the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) and was not in a hurry to defend it, primarily because of its unclear position on the land issue. Unlike the Bolsheviks with their decree declaring land reform, the UNR never approved the unambiguous transfer of all the landlords’ lands to the peasants.”

Since secession from the Soviet Union in 1990/91, Ukrainians have “voted with their feet” against neoliberal reforms and right-wing nationalism of successive governments in Kiev. Millions have left the country seeking better livelihoods abroad, primarily in Western Europe.

Cognizant of this troubling trend, Ukrainian officials have stopped conducting censuses. The last national census was more than 20 years ago, in 2001. According to various estimates, the population of the country today is only some 60 to 70 percent of the population in 1991. Many millions more have left the country since war broke out in 2022, while several million more now live in the “new territories” of Russia, that is, the former regions of Ukraine that Russia has seized and where referendum votes have taken place to formally secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. (Kiev, by the way, does not recognize any of the referendums among Ukrainian citizens to join Russia that have taken place as far back as 2014, notably in Crimea on March 16, 2014 and several times in the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. It continues to include all of them in its population estimates of Ukraine.)

The mass exodus of the population and the prolonged embellishments (falsifications) in official reports of the true demographic situation have played a cruel joke on Kiev, causing it to overestimate its own strength. This was manifested in Zelensky’s conflict with the now-former head of the AFU General Staff, General Valeriy Zaluzhny. The latter wanted significantly more personnel to replace the army’s losses and prepare it for more hard fighting, thus putting elected leaders like Zelensky in a tight spot. How are the elected leaders to tell the country that only brute force against unwilling conscripts can boost the army’s numbers? Add to this the fact that many of those who have chosen to remain in the country have no liking or loyalty to the current Kiev regime. Forced conscription of such people is fraught with the danger of eruption of social revolution.

The authors of the Ukrainian website Liberal are openly voicing this concern. They write:

The fact is that Ukraine is no longer capable of fighting the way Zaluzhny is trained to fight. This would require conscription of another half a million people, and such a resource exists only in theory. In practice, it does not exist at all. Our society is heterogeneous, and anyone who is ready to give his life for Ukraine has already done so. The rest are indifferent, if not hostile, to the government’s fate.

Such people are often more than simple draft dodgers. They are also “waiters” [that is, Ukrainians who are “waiting” and hoping for the Russian forces to arrive]. You don’t have to be V.I. Lenin in order to understand that the existence of half a million “dodgers-and-waiters” avoiding forced conscription is a direct path to social revolution and in no way saves the front.

Add to this the many more Ukrainians who do not want to fight in order to save their lives and may have a growing realization that the only way to avoid such a fate may be to fight for the right not to fight.

A shaky apparatus of violence

Mass, forced conscription in Ukraine requires a large apparatus of violence, that is, bodies whose job is to capture reluctant Ukrainian recruits and send them to the front. This is far from easy. Even some Ukrainian police officers and special services personnel are being driven into the trenches to plug new gaps at the front. In early February, police officers were targeted and sent to the front as storm troops staged a revolt. The incident highlighted simmering and continuing tensions between the nationalists in power and those who opposed them a decade ago during the Maidan coup.

Police officers in the city of Dnipro (renamed from the Soviet-era name Dnipropetrovsk in 2016) claim that they are being forced by the deputy head of the National Police Department in Dnipropetrovsk Region, Volodymyr Bohonos, to join a military assault brigade. There was even a verbal altercation between the policemen and Bogonos. In a video circulating on social media, you can hear some of the policemen recalling that they used to be in the Berkut special police units of the government overthrown in 2014. They once dispersed the paramilitaries in Kiev who spearheaded the coup that year and are today pressing for war to continue against Russia.

One of the police officers recalls to the deputy head of the current police department, “Do you remember which unit you came to? Where did you come from? You were a henchman of the protests in Maidan (Maidan Square in central Kiev) while I was in the Berkut. Do you understand the problem we are now talking about?”

At the end of last year, the leadership of the Ukrainian police opposed involving police in handing out military summonses. The head of the National Police, Ivan Vygovsky, said that the police already had too much work to do. They have nevertheless been forced to hand out summonses, organize raids seeking conscripts, and stand guard at checkpoints to nab draft evaders.

As police officers are pressed into front line military service, crime rates are on the rise in Ukrainian cities as hundreds of thousands of men are unable to work legally. Employers in Ukraine are now obliged to submit lists of employees to the country’s military commission, following which the employees are typically dispatched to the front.

In early February, Dnipro city topped the list of cities in Eastern Europe with the highest crime rate, according to the Numbeo website based in Serbia. Four more Ukrainian cities were included in its list of cities with the highest crime rates: Odessa is in second place, Kharkov is in fifth place, Kiev is in eighth place, and Lvov is in thirteenth place.

In February, Ukrainian emergency rescuers began to be sent to the front lines en masse; this while the country faces increased threats of fires, wildfires, and other disasters. Ukrainian rescuers are appealing to their leadership to leave them to do their jobs.

The rescuers also draw attention to the omnipresent corruption in the country. A message by employees of the State Emergency Service read: “Unfortunately, decisions of who among us will be sent to the front are decided not by the results of conscription regulations and orders, as it should be. Our department chief set a price of (USD equivalent) $5000 [to stay home and avoid military service].”

Crisis of legitimacy in the Ukrainian legislature

The constant violation of laws and trampling of the constitution for the sake of fighting Russia as well as the cancelation of elections that were to take place early in 2024 has created a crisis of legitimacy, even in the Rada. If earlier, Ukrainian millionaires and top officials paid large sums for a seat in the legislature, now they cannot escape from it and resign their mandates should they no longer wish to take responsibility for the disastrous state of the country. The head of the Servants of the People faction in the Rada, David Arahamiya, said in late January that at least 17 of his fellow party members were ready to surrender their Rada mandates. Other party groups and factions also have such MPs.

MP Olexander Dubinskyy writes on Telegram that he is sure there are many more MPs of the Servants of the People party who wish to resign. “Many of them are anxiously awaiting and hoping for permission to go on a foreign business trip, from which they have the option of never returning,” he writes. “They continue to attend Rada sessions in the hope of acquiring a coveted permission to leave the country.”

According to Dubinsky, there are some 50 such members in the Rada. “Already, several of my former colleagues in my party faction have told me that they believe the only way to get out as a Rada deputy is to acquire a criminal record,” he wrote.

Ukrainian MP Yevhen Shevchenko writes that some Rada deputies have been stripped of all rights and been threatened with criminal prosecution as “agents of the Kremlin.” He also warns that deputies are also capable of revolt. “There is one truth. A cornered person is first afraid, then begins to hate the one who cornered him, then turns into a wolf and attacks the despot,” Shevchenko wrote in his telegram channel, referring to the office of President Zelensky as the “despot.”

Ukrainian economy at severe risk

Many big businessmen in Ukraine oppose forced conscription because they cannot run their businesses and earn money without sufficient workers, that is, without the very people who produce surplus value for them. The president of the Confederation of Employers of Ukraine, Oleksiy Miroshnichenko, recently complained that the military is trying to force businesses to perform functions that are not theirs, notably in handing out military summonses. He is demanding that employed workers be given a deferment from conscription, as economic activity is impossible without them. The European Business Association also claims that the adoption of the government conscription bill could paralyze the Ukrainian economy.

Ukrainian bankers see a looming threat to the entire banking system as people refuse or are unable to repay loans, withdraw their deposits, and send money abroad. They, too, are dissatisfied with conscription and the penalties against evaders. “What should banks do in such a situation? We are facing credit defaults and a new rise of problem portfolios, substantial ones at that, as restrictions on banking services become widespread,” a chairman of the board of one of the Ukrainian banks told the Strana media outlet.

Strana cites the banking official: “Restricting access and use of banking services involves more than restricting access to bank accounts, freezing use of credit cards, or banning money transfers. There are also credit services. Yes, it is possible to restrict or ban new loans, but what to do with the repayment of old ones? Sure, we can ‘withdraw’ a person from access to bank services, but that means he may not settle with us. Even if we require early repayment of a line of credit or credit card debt, the person may simply not have the necessary funds and may not have property which the bank could seize and sell.”

Strana also reports: “According to the National Bank of Ukraine, from the beginning of 2022 to July 2023, the share of problem loans in the total credit portfolio of the banking system, including businesses, increased from 30 percent to 39.26 percent. This has begun to improve only in recent months; the rate of problem loans has dropped to 37.7 percent by the beginning of November 2023.”

The bill on military conscription provides for increased restrictions on draft evaders, including blocking their credit cards and freezing their funds in banking accounts. It is reported that many males are withdrawing their funds from banks and registering these funds as well as other property in the names of wives, daughters, or grandparents who are not targeted by conscription.

In other words, the apparatus of violence of the Ukrainian state is trying to force workers, peasants, deputies, bankers, and policemen all at the same time. This risks leaving the state and government apparatus acting with the support, or at least acquiescence, of only a very narrow group of people.

The shrinking of the state

So who is behind Ukraine’s state apparatus? Who has an interest in its survival?

First of all, there is Zelensky’s sharply narrowing circle of people. That circle is narrowing as Ukraine’s economy collapses and government budget revenues and Western aid shrink, prompting an intra-species struggle for financial flows within the central government.

Secondly, there are the surviving Ukrainian radical nationalists. The forced conscription of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men (most of who do not share the nationalists’ views) is a matter of personal survival for the nationalists. A Ukrainian neo-Nazi from the Aidar battalion in early February threatened to harm draft evaders because they are beginning to self-organize. Yevhen Dikiy, an ex-company commander of the Aidar far-right paramilitary battalion, was reported in late January saying, “The evaders are scared rats. They bite when in a pack, but they’ll get to the point where we will have to take matters into our own hands. We have enough hands and iron and determination for that, believe me. We will clean them up, such that nothing will remain of from them.”

In other words, the survival of ordinary Ukrainians who do not want to go to the front is at odds with the political and perhaps survival of thousands of radical nationalists. The latter will fight to the death, remembering the fate of thousands of Nazi collaborationists during and following World War II.

Dikiy says he is primarily concerned about the spontaneous riots against conscription that are on the rise across Ukraine. In some cases, such spontaneous riots may even hit innocent civilians who are suspected of cooperating with the military enlistment offices and helping them capture draft evaders. In early February, for example, a mob of women in the western Ukrainian village of Kosmach nearly lynched a woman and her child who had traveled to the village. of “working for the military enlistment office” and having come to the village to identify possible draft evaders. For millions of Ukrainians, the main “enemy” in the country is no longer a Russian soldier but the Ukrainian military officer or policeman who is seizing ordinary Ukrainians to be sent to the front.

Another party interested in preserving Ukraine’s state apparatus alienated from the people is the elites of the West, for whom the war in Ukraine is a “moral crusade,” as writer Lawrence Norman of the Wall Street Journal described their viewpoint in a February 1 report. The Office of the President of Ukraine is actually offering a deal to these modern-day Western crusaders. In January, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba spoke to the Western economic elites assembled at their annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. “We are offering you the best deal in the world: you don’t sacrifice your soldiers, you give us weapons and money instead, and we will finish the job.”

Ukrainian economist Oleksiy Kushch recently warned that conscription in Ukraine threatens that society and the state may go in opposite directions. “A strategic risk is the diverging of society and the state. A significant part of society will go into a ‘catacomb state,’ completely severing the networks that connect it to state institutions. The transition of a part of society in opposition to state institutions during the war is a huge risk, an unacceptable one, I would say,” .

In practical terms, wrote Kushch, strengthening military mobilization in Ukraine through repression, or even preserving the status quo, risks citizens withdrawing their money from banks en masse, closing their bank accounts, quitting their jobs, and henceforth working illegally without paying any taxes.

What the Ukrainian economist threatens, in fact, has been developing in Ukraine for a long time. Many of us have to use bank cards, which are not registered anywhere but manage to work. We use medical services which ”officially” do not exist. We work wherever we are fortunate enough to find work and buy products that formally never entered the territory of Ukraine and were not produced here. This is exactly the “catacomb state” against which Kushch warned.

One of my neighbors associates the modern Ukrainian state with death. In his opinion, the state apparatus is writhing in agony and dying, but it wants to drag him and his family down with it. For this reason, he distances himself from the Ukraine state as much as possible. Since the beginning of Russia’s Special Military Operation, he has shunned any and all dealings with state bodies, avoiding even state-affiliated charitable foundations. He does not understand why a state structure that has given him and his family nothing during its entire existence—denying him proper medical treatment, education or even protection from street gangs, allegedly because of the need to implement neoliberal reforms demanded by Western creditors—now demands of him his very life.

Intuitively, he recognizes that the survival of the Ukrainian state in its current form is at odds with the survival of his family and at odds with the very survival of the nation as a whole.

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